Stephen McGinty: Football no place for Ched Evans
Scotland has excellent form when it comes to cheering on a convicted rapist in a football stadium. In fact, I was among the ecstatic crowd, but I was typing, not cheering, and had been sent in a professional rather than recreational capacity. It was the evening of Saturday, 24 June, 2000, and thousands of boxing fans had gathered to watch Mike Tyson, “the baddest man on the planet”, fight Lou Savarese.
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Back then, nobody in the crowd seemed to mind that in 1992 Tyson had been convicted of raping an 18-year-old beauty queen, Desiree Washington, and sentenced to six years in prison. The audience was packed with celebrities, and I remember bumping into Gordon Ramsay and a few of his chefs struggling to get a taxi after Tyson demolished Savarese in 38 seconds, the second quickest bout of his career.
At least 20 women did mind enough to attend the meeting at Glasgow City Council, where the licensing committee granted permission by ten votes to one. The protesters shouted “shame”.
I wonder how much louder their voice would be today? Well, for one thing, the fight could not have taken place, as in December 2012 the immigration laws in Britain were tightened to prevent a character such as Tyson, with a conviction for rape, from even entering the country. Then there is the question of whether Glasgow City Council would be so keen today to welcome a convicted rapist into their stadiums, regardless of the amount of money that would follow in his wild wake. Attitudes have changed in the past 15 years, and even the most old-fashioned or recalcitrant of councillors have learned not to cast doubt on convictions for sexual assault or rape.
I’ve been thinking about Mike Tyson’s brief visit to Glasgow – which was only three years after he bit off the ear of Evander Holyfield – in the wake of the controversy over Ched Evans’ repeated attempts to re-enter his chosen career. I can’t think of a similar case where a professional sportsman returned to compete in Britain after serving a prison sentence for rape. In professional football, where image and advertising is almost as important as points, why would any team take the risk?
Well, this week Oldham Athletic came close to taking the risk, with a spokesman saying there was an “80 per cent” chance of Evans signing for the club, until a series of vile threats on social media, including the threat that a specific relative of a staff member would be raped if the deal went ahead, prompted them to abandon the offer. It barely needs stating that anyone who, in protest against the hiring of a convicted rapist, threatens “rape” is deeply deluded, confused and one hopes not violently so.
Yet this week the perception that Evans is the subject of a miscarriage of justice appears to be growing. Wrongly so. Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, told Radio 5 Live that the footballer “would not be the first person to have been found guilty and maintained their innocence and then been proved right”.
He went on to compare his case to Hillsborough, and stated: “If we are talking about things in football, we know what happened, what was alleged to have happened at Hillsborough. It’s now unravelling and we are finding it was very different to how it was portrayed at the time, indeed by the police at the time.”
Yesterday, Taylor apologised, and rightly so. The cold facts are that at 4:15am on 30 May, 2011, Ched Evans received a text from his friend Clayton McDonald telling him he had “got a bird”. McDonald had minutes before met a 19-year-old waitress who was exceedingly drunk; in fact, so drunk that she had fallen over in a kebab shop, where she left her handbag.
The woman agreed to go with McDonald back to a hotel room, where the pair began to have sex. Evans then arrived in the room and proceeded to have sex with the drunk, naked woman. Evans’ friends then filmed what took place from outside the window, before the curtains were closed. After sex, the pair then abandoned her.
A jury found McDonald not guilty of rape. A man picks up a woman, takes her back to his hotel room and has sex with her. Not guilty.
But they took a different view of Evans, who had suddenly appeared in the room as the victim was already having sex with another man, and took the view that she was unable to consent to sex with him and, as a consequence, he was guilty of rape.
In the summing-up, the judge said: “…[the victim] was in no position to form a capacity to consent to sexual intercourse, and you, when you arrived, must have realised that.”
When Evans appealed against his sentence to the Court of Appeal, it was rejected, and now he has appealed to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC). But as there is no new evidence to present, it is viewed as unlikely to succeed. This is not Hillsborough. There are no lying policemen or altered statements. It is correct that, prior to trial, the accused is rightly considered innocent prior to conviction, but this is a right not extended to those convicted, however talented they are with a football.
I understand what Evans is trying to achieve. He wants to return to football while waiting for the CCRC to clear his name, and I understand what Oldham Athletic were thinking: let’s get a top talent for a tenth of his previous price. But times have changed. It’s no longer 1980 or 1990 or even 2000, when an unrepentant rapist could swagger back into the sporting arena.
I also understand why Evans hasn’t, until Thursday’s anaemic attempt, apologised, because in his mind he has done nothing wrong. He’s an innocent man with nothing to apologise for. When he did apologise, the victim wasn’t even the sole subject of the apology, only one of “many” as he said:
“I wish to make it clear that I wholeheartedly apologise for the effects that night in Rhyl has had on many people, not least the woman concerned.”
I wonder who in his legal and PR team drafted the words “not least the woman concerned” and thought: “Yup, that’ll do it.”
I also wonder if the Twitter public would have been more forgiving if Evans had admitted his crime and dedicated himself to working, if they would have him, with women’s groups? Even then, it would probably have been dismissed as insincere and self-serving, as all ex-cons’ good works are so often written off.
Two things have changed in the past 15 years since Scottish boxing fans cheered on a convicted rapist.
Attitudes to sexual abuse have, quite rightly, toughened, and social media has made protest more convenient and effective.
Football clubs are within their rights to hire Evans, but it is a difficult calculation involving risk versus reward, and he would have to deliver a net full of goals and crucial points to balance the loss of sponsors and board members.
I would say that there are certain jobs in the public eye to which convicted rapists are not well suited: teaching, nursing, police and, well, professional football, whose players remain the idols of the young.
I think what people have forgotten is that Evans’ plight, if you view it as such, is being repeated across Britain by thousands of men and women: “Ex-convict struggles to find work”.
Is it really such a surprising story?
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